Among the Mandekan-speaking groups of western Africa, including the Mandinka of the Senegambia region, Bamana and Xasonka of Mali, and Maninnka of Guinea, certain locales have earned a widespread reputation for the creativity, ingenuity, and expertise of their musical artists. Specialists in the koni (lute) and dundun (bass drum) from Xaso (north-western Mali), ngoni (large lute) from Segou (Mali), kora (harp) from The Gambia, and jembe from Kouroussa (Upper Guinea) are treasured far and wide for their local traditions. The capital cities Conakry and Bamako have attracted musicians from all over to their renowned national ballets, ensembles, and guitar and brass-based orchestras that launched the international careers of singers Sory Kandia Kouyate, Aboubacar Demba Camara, Mory Kante, and Sal if Keita, guitarists Sekou "Bembeya" Dioubaté and Manfila Kante, and drummer Mamady Keita. Upper Guinea has proven to be an especially rich musical area. The region of Siguiri has produced the core of the original Les Ballets Africains in the 1950s, the first dance troupe of its kind: founder Fodeba Keita, lead dancer Fanta Kamissoko, and lead drummer Ladji Camara grew up there; musical director Facelli Kante lived there as well as in Kankan and Kissidougou at different times. South of Siguiri, guitar and 188 bala (xylophone) players enhanced the reputation of Kankan and Kissidougou in the decades preceding independence.